Filial piety has always been held in high regard by out Indian society. It has been assumed that during the old age of the parents, it is the children’s obligation to take care of them. But with the degenerating traditional values and weakened family system, there has been a breakdown of the joint family system and emergence of nuclear families. The crunches of today’s economy have also made the younger generation to see the elderly as a burden, more often than not leading to elder abuse or abandonment.
Hence, in an attempt to resolve the various social and economic problems resulting from an increasing apathy of the children towards their elderly, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act (MWPSC) was enacted in the year 2007. This Act makes the maintenance of parents or grandparents an obligation of the children who are entitled to receive the benefits of inheritance or succession, both either by the statutory law or personal law.
Until the publication of the Longitudinal Ageing Study in India (LASI) report, there was not much information on how this act is faring among the elderly. In this survey, the elderly respondents were asked if they were aware or had ever heard of the MWPSC Act.
Only 11.7% of the elderly in India had any knowledge about the Act, out of which 17.7% of the elderly belonged to urban areas and 9.2% to rural areas. Awareness of the Act was seen to increase with increased levels of education, and also with a better economic background. Only 8.7% of the women elderly had any idea about this Act, whereas this percentage was higher for men at 15.1%.
The awareness of this Act amongst the elderly men is also seen to be highest in Assam (54%), Puducherry (51%), Tamil Nadu (28%) and Chandigarh (23%). Among the elderly women, the awareness is seen to be almost absent in the states of Punjab (1%), Nagaland (1%), and Jharkhand (2%).
The states with the highest proportion of elderly with knowledge of this MWPSC Act are Puducherry (46.4%), Assam (44.3%), followed by Tamil Nadu (23.7%) and Chandigarh (23.3%). States like Nagaland (0.7%), Arunachal Pradesh (2%) and Punjab (2.6%) are in the lowest quartiles of the proportion of elderly having awareness of this particular Act.
There needs to be awareness campaigns done in the local languages, involvement of the panchayats to increase this abysmal proportion of the elderly who have any knowledge the provisions with this MWPSC Act. The implementation of this Act is still patchy even with all the legislations in place. Also, parents being more emotionally attached to their children are mostly reluctant to take any legal action against their children. If there are some who wish to fight against the injustice and file a case, they are unable due to their physical weakness.
The MWPSC Act does not cure the root cause, making it important for the state to recognise its responsibility towards the elderly of the country. The idea of filial piety and state obligation should not be mutually exclusive, but should complement one another.
The social security system in our country has always been inadequate. According to the LASI report, only12% of the elderly have awareness about the Annapurna Scheme, 44% about the Indira Gandhi Widow Pension Scheme and 55% about the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme. A quarter of the elderly are still not utilising the scheme, and around two-fifths of them face various types of problems to receive the benefits.
Due to the insufficient social security system in our country, and the ill-treatment seen towards the elderly, this Act was brought about aiming to bring a moral obligation for the children towards their parents. But this Act is just a small beginning which will take a long time to show its effect. Hence there is still a necessity seen to provide substitutive safety net in the form of strengthening the social security system for elderly persons. India still has a long way to go in fulfilling its promise of a life of dignity to its elderly.
Vinod Kumar, Research Scholar, IIPS
Harshita Chari, Research Scholar, IIPS